Pesticides called neonicotinoids marketed by Bayer were banned in France in the 1990s because they were suspected of contributing to mysterious bee die-offs. (The pesticides are applied to seeds, and may then travel systemically throughout the plant, including to the pollen.) Germany recently followed suit.

Bee "colony collapse" is a big problem: About a third of human food crops require pollination, and more than a third of U.S. bee colonies died out last year. The the NRDC is pushing the EPA to take a serious look at neonicotinoids, so far to no avail.

Although at least one EPA study found the neonicotinoid marketed as Gaucho "highly toxic to bees on an acute oral and contact basis," the agency has okayed higher-than-normal applications of the pesticide and even allowed a similar pesticide - this one called Pancho - to be marketed with only partial testing. It refuses to release documents relating to these decisions.

If the EPA is protecting Bayer, it's doing so at the expense of the entire agricultural industry and food retailers. Big companies like Haagen-Dazs are also asking the federal government to get serious about protecting bees.

"How would our federal government respond if 1 out of every 3 cows was dying?" one bee expert asked pointedly during testimony to the House subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture - a minor committee to be hearing testimony on an issue with the potential to cost billions of dollars.

The problem appears systemic. No independent government testing is required before a pesticide is registered for use, and failure to rotate crops creates breeding grounds for pests, requiring the use of more and stronger pesticides. Since pesticides are designed to, err, kill things, it seems fairly logical to assume them dangerous to living things like bees and humans until they're proven safe, does it not? Particularly when, as this case shows, doing so doesn't necessarily stifle agriculture.